Christopher Hitchens dies at 62 after suffering cancer

Writer Christopher Hitchens Vanity Fair's editor said those who read him felt they knew him

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British-born author, literary critic and journalist Christopher Hitchens has died at the age of 62.

He died from pneumonia, a complication of the oesophageal cancer he had, at a Texas hospital.

Vanity Fair magazine, which announced his death, said there would "never be another like Christopher".

He is survived by his wife, Carol Blue, and their daughter, Antonia, and his children from a previous marriage, Alexander and Sophia.

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter described the writer as someone "of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar".

"Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls."

Hitchens was born in Portsmouth in 1949 and graduated from Oxford in 1970.

He began his career as a journalist in Britain in the 1970s and later moved to New York, becoming contributing editor to Vanity Fair in November 1992.

"Prospect of death makes me sober, objective"

He was diagnosed with cancer in June 2010, and documented his declining health in his Vanity Fair column.

In an August 2010 essay for the magazine he wrote: "I love the imagery of struggle.

"I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient."

Speaking on the BBC's Newsnight programme, in November that year, he reflected on a life that he knew would be cut short: "It does concentrate the mind, of course, to realise that your life is more rationed than you thought it was."

Radicalised by the 1960s, Hitchens was often arrested at political rallies and was kicked out of the Labour Party over his opposition to the Vietnam War.

He became a correspondent for the Socialist Workers Party's International Socialism magazine.

In later life he moved away from the left. Following the September 11 attacks he argued with Noam Chomsky and others who suggested that US foreign policy had helped cause the tragedy.

He supported the Iraq War and backed George W Bush for re-election in 2004.

It led to him being accused of betrayal: one former friend called him "a lying, opportunistic, cynical contrarian", another critic said he was "a drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay".

But he could dish out scathing critiques himself. He called Bill Clinton "a cynical, self-seeking ambitious thug", Henry Kissinger a war criminal and Mother Teresa a fraudulent fanatic.

'A great voice'

He also famously fell out with his brother, the Mail on Sunday journalist Peter Hitchens, though the pair were later reconciled.

Hitchens could be a loyal friend. He stood by the author Salman Rushdie during the furore that followed the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.

Writing on Twitter after the announcement of Hitchens' death, Mr Rushdie said: "Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops."

Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly debated religion with Hitchens at the Munk Debate in Toronto in November 2010.

"Christopher Hitchens was a complete one-off, an amazing mixture of writer, journalist, polemicist, and unique character," said Mr Blair.

"He was fearless in the pursuit of truth and any cause in which he believed. And there was no belief he held that he did not advocate with passion, commitment and brilliance.

"He was an extraordinary, compelling and colourful human being whom it was a privilege to know."

The MP Denis McShane was a student at Oxford with Hitchens.

He said: "Christopher just swam against every tide. He was a supporter of the Polish and Czech resistance of the 1970s, he supported Mrs Thatcher because he thought getting rid of the Argentinian fascist junta was a good idea.

"He was a cross between Voltaire and Orwell. He loved words.

"He could throw words up into the sky, they fell down in a marvellous pattern."

Start Quote

Christopher Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious”

End Quote Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister

The publication of his 2007 book God Is Not Great made him a major celebrity in his adopted homeland of the United States, and he happily took on the role of the country's best-known atheist.

He maintained his devout atheism after being diagnosed with cancer, telling one interviewer: "No evidence or argument has yet been presented which would change my mind. But I like surprises."

The author and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins described him as the "finest orator of our time" and a "valiant fighter against all tyrants including God".

He said Hitchens had been a "wonderful mentor in a way".

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who once worked as an intern for Hitchens, said: "Christopher Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious.

"He will be massively missed by everyone who values strong opinions and great writing."

Hitchens wrote for numerous publications including The Times Literary Supplement, the Daily Express, the London Evening Standard, Newsday and The Atlantic.

He was the author of 17 books, including The Trial of Henry Kissinger, How Religion Poisons Everything, and a memoir, Hitch-22.

A collection of his essays, Arguably, was released this year.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    305.YMedad writes:
    "Wasn't Hirtchens Jewish? Did it not affect his writing and political orientation? That should deserve a mention, no?"

    No, it shouldn't - and the least you could do is spell his name correctly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    I have been a huge Hitchens fan ever since reading God is Not Great. I enjoyed reading other modern anti-theist works like the God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation, but Hitchens' work is so aggressively compelling. He doesn't try to compromise, to tip-toe around important issues and the same style was present in his debates. He could debate in a room full of rednecks and get an ovation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    What if Hitch was wrong – and there is a God and he’s standing before him right now, having the ultimate debate.
    One thing is for sure – God would have lost by now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    we belong to God and to him we shall return

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    What sad news. The Hitch had been a huge influence in my journey to reasoned enlightenment.

    Whilst his voice has been silenced, the clarity of his argument will continue to resonate and challenge the preposterous for many years to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    well now Christopher Hitchens knows the truth: that there is a God and that he, Hitchens, is not God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    I am what many would consider to be religious - Catholic Christian at that - but the way this man thought was amazing. A great mind snuffed out by cancer. Not a good day. Greatly missed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    A sad loss. But equally as sad is the lost of decorum by so-called Christians.

    Twitter's had to pull the Hitchens-related #GodIsNotGreat trending topic due to repeated death threats - death threats! - from those who claim they promote tolerance, understanding and forgiveness.

    Even here, it seems it's the religious who are having their comments deleted by the moderators.

    Despicable behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    Pity. A great mind blinded to the existence of a creator God. Condolences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    340 - Mark. Believe me Mark, I complained about every one of your diatribes and was informed by the BBC that you had contravened the rules and your posts were subsequently removed. It was nothing to do with the BBC being "un-PC". Want to talk about God? Me and many others would prefer it if you did it elsewhere, in a more appropriate environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    I liked Hitchen's acerbic manner and his dislike of religion. I would have had a lot more respect for him if he hadn't flip flopped on his political views to support Bush.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    260.Rev J Hughes
    "...according to his own religion of atheism he has ceased to be."

    Hate to disappoint you Reverend, but 'religion of atheism' is a clumsy oxymoron. One is the belief in and reverence for a supernatural power, the other is the disbelief in or denial of the existence of that same power.

  • Comment number 350.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    254.Mark Cosens
    1 Hour ago

    "Don't think anyone is really "celebrating" Christopher Hitchen's death." "After all, Christians & most faiths are taught to be loving & kind."
    Then they really need to find better teachers because all too many of them don't seem to get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    To both sides of the 'God' debate intemperately espousing their views on here, to say God definitely does/not exist is an equal act of faith.There's no proof for either in this world. G. M. Hopkins refered to a leap in the dark in moving from intellectual argument, which can only get you so far, to faith.A man has died, please show respect for him & his friends & relatives

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Athiesm is not a religion. It's the label applied to people who don't believe in fairy tales.
    Not quite. It is a label applied to those who believe in only one less god than monotheists,

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    341. jimmy_the_shoe the first man is not a fool & i never met anyone fitting the second man's description .because the promise of living for ever is extended to both men and is based on more evidence than you can shake a stick at & btw a large part of the very language that we use has evolved from use of the King James Bible which gives a clear understanding of the relevant terms of folly & wisdom

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    For me, Hitchens best illustrated the importance of thinking for yourself and how illusory categories we often use (left/right, liberal/conservative etc) are - he made his own category of one, the sharpest mind and wit I have ever come across. Whatever the issue his opinion was always argued forcefully and clearly with evidence and reason to back it up and I for one will miss him greatly

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    This is a huge loss. I will miss reading his take on the events of the world and the way he made me rethink issues I thought were settled. My thoughts are with his family. A great and brave man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    So he supported the war in Iraq. A war which has left 10,000's of children without parents and 10,000's of parents without children. He may have been articulate with words but his judgement on Iraq was unquestionably flawed.


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